Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland!

During my time in Germany, I found that the main theme portrayed in museums about their history during WWII was the acknowledgement of their evils by blaming the individual Nazi party and not society as a whole. On our first day in Berlin, we visited the Reichstag building, which is the German parliamentary building that was established in the 1990’s. We received an amazing private tour from an official who works there and she explained the entire history of the building from the time before WWI through its current function in the German national government. Although the building was built in the late 1800’s, the Third Reich never used this building during its reign because there was a fire that burned most of the building in 1933. Hitler then used this fire as a plot to further condemn the communists (who were responsible for the fire) and increase his absolute powers in the government. However, during the Battle of Berlin near the end of the war, Soviet soldiers thought this building was the headquarters for the Nazis. So, they wrote graffiti all over the walls out of spite. This building currently is a testament to Germany’s acknowledgment of its crimes and a constant reminder of their past mistakes. When the government decided to use this building, they renovated the place but made strategically important design decisions that saved the history, of what they are both proud and ashamed, of the Reichstag. Therefore, visitors can see the preserved graffiti from Soviet Soldiers and the destruction from the early 20th century on exposed walls from the original building. These design choices also mean that visitors can see how open and honest Germany is about its past. In addition, at the bottom of the building, there is a display that showcases many metal boxes that look like bricks. On each was a democratically elected official from the end of WWI until today, in order to demonstrate the stable foundation of their government. The fact that they included both Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler in this display emphasizes their view of how their history, even the most terrible part, is the foundation of their society today.

Our tour guide was very honest with the German past and acted not as though she was describing the defeat for the nation during WWII, but more like she was describing the growth of the nation from that point on and displayed their successes coming back from this dark past.

In addition, when we visited the house in Potsdam where the Wannsee Conference took place, this theme continued. The Wannsee Conference was the meeting at which the major participants in the Final Solution gathered to discuss the logistics and organization of carrying out the genocide of European Jews. Because steps had already been taken in this direction to eliminate the Jews, this meeting was not where the final solution was decided. It was where it was made official and standardized, as was seen by the packet of documents discovered that highlighted the major points of the meeting with officials like Heydrich and Himmler. In this museum there was constant acceptance for the crimes committed in Germany, but it took more of an intentionalist stance in that it said the main group of Nazis were the masterminds behind all of it, placing all blame on them rather than on society as would be present with the functionalist approach.

Germany as a whole has made many strides to reconcile with its past, though it is apparent that society has accepted the actions of the Nazis and not necessarily their own collaboration involved with the actions of the Third Reich.

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